The online gaming universe is pulsing with energy. The advent of multiplayer games has facilitated a massive and unprecedented new paradigm in our cultural zeitgeist. Extensive studies have been conducted into the graphical UI where thousands of players compete against one another in real time. MMO (massively multiplayer games) games and MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) are particularly noteworthy. With virtual reality responsible for interactions between players in the gaming universe, a brand-new dynamic has developed, and taken root among players.
These commercially-driven games have captivated the public’s attention en masse, with little or no computing skills required other than click to play functionality. In-depth studies have been conducted into the virtual life of online gaming, with particular attention paid to a 1998 game known as Ultima Online and its medieval game world. With a fully established social milieu in place, Ultima Online serves as the bedrock for in-depth studies in this arena.
Over the years, dozens of world-class MMORPG games have come to the fore. These include popular titles like The Sims Online, EverQuest, and even Asherons Call. We begin our review with a quick recap of Ultima Online and how the social dynamics of players have been affected by this game’s introduction into the virtual gaming universe. Ultima Online requires players to choose a character, location, and physical attributes. Gender is less a factor in terms of game play nowadays, other than to differentiate the physical attributes of an in-game character. Each of these on-screen characters has a set of skills and abilities that allows them to compete in various challenges. By increasing a character’s net monetary wealth, that character can acquire various assets, resources, and abilities necessary to complete missions. Indeed, the game environment has many social components allowing players to join Guilds as members, with high levels of collaboration at play.
The convergence of Online, Offline and Data Worlds
Today’s virtual games have two distinct realities – the offline world and the online world. The former entails the developers and game creators, and the players outside of the game environment. The online world encompasses everything that takes place in the game. This includes the framework established by the game creators, in-game elements, characters, situations, and worlds. A peripheral world known as the world of data also exists which includes interface commands, updates, bugs and security challenges, et cetera. All of this is brought to the fore through the Internet via hardware/software combinations in the form of PC, Mac, tablet, phablet, or smartphone devices.
The player profile for online games will vary from one game to the next. In the case of Ultima Online, the average player age at the time of the study was 24, with the professional component measuring 52% of all players. It is worth pointing out that the age distribution of players for this game was heavily packed into the 30-39 age group, the 40-49 age group, and the 50-59 age group. Most players averaged at least 14 months of gameplay with this game according to the study in Germany, with just 14% of players having enjoyed the game for 3 months with Ultima Online.
At the time of the report, just 3% of players were female, and the overwhelming majority of relationships formed in the game between players were with men. It is worth pointing out that regular, intensive gameplay is the norm with Ultima Online and similar games. Typical gaming sessions of 4 hours are common. Most players spent 23 hours per week on the game, usually from home.
Benefits of Playing Virtual Games
As with any online game, there are different groups of players competing against one another. These include moderate players with low frequency and low duration of gameplay, frequent players with high frequency and low duration, tenacious players with low-frequency and high duration, and heavy players with high-frequency and high duration. This study indicated that the higher frequency players tend to be the younger players.
High-frequency players are also less likely to be professionals outside the game. It is notable that whenever players invest significant amounts of time, energy, and resources, there is assumed to be some sort of benefit. In the case of this particular game, the motivation was the social aspect of the game. This brings us to an important topic in this social gaming realm: purpose. The raison d’être for this game is simply to survive and thrive in a hostile environment.
By building up oneself via in-game characters, this particular game allows for the gradual development, and strengthening of the character. This is all conducted within the ambit of a social environment with regular interactions between players in a multitude of social settings. The study’s authors found that the in-game social dynamics mimicked real-life situations in many ways. This is not to say that extensive social interactions are a prerequisite for remaining in the game; quite the contrary. The messaging system of this well-established game required the use of ICQ.
Regulated Frameworks for Legal-Age Social Gaming
Today’s games are markedly different to that 1998 MMORPG game. We now have a plenitude of options available to players across the board, with dozens of complimentary, supplementary, and contrarian gaming categories. One of the world’s most established online gaming markets is the United Kingdom. This is particularly true of regulated gaming activity where players can participate in a wealth of interactive games such as real-money betting games.
The United Kingdom Gambling Commission (UKGC) is the chief authority for overseeing legal-age gambling games in Britain. Other regulatory authorities such as the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), the Ireland Revenue Commissioners (IRC), and the Government of Gibraltar provide the green light for licensed gaming activity in their jurisdictions, or for a broader market.
Dramatic advances in Internet connectivity (from dial-up to broadband, 3G, 4G, and now 5G) have allowed for the creation of sophisticated gaming options from a host of reputable software providers. Many games which began as player versus machine (or RNG) have evolved into multiplayer online casino games where it is possible to compete for prize pools. All of this takes place within a framework of responsible gaming conduct where ID verification, geolocation tracking, and security frameworks are firmly in place. The social component of UK online casino games is evident in many ways.
For example, the online gaming world has successfully brought the glitz and glam of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Monte Carlo to the scene with interactive audio-visual elements, multiplayer functionality, on-site blogs, social media connectivity (Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), competitive promotional offers, and enhanced customer support and service. Viewed against this backdrop, it is clear that there has been a notable move towards social gaming activities across the board.
Virtual Life in the Gaming World
Living a virtual life is part enjoyment, part escapism, and part reality. We cannot avoid a degree of immersion in the virtual arena. We are plugged in to our Internet-connected devices, 24/7. With things like Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, smart technology and the IoT, it makes sense that our gaming endeavours are a natural extension of this immersion. Provided we can exist in equilibrium, without losing valuable interpersonal skills and communicative abilities, the virtual life we live serves a valuable purpose in the modern age. We all need some degree of proficiency in virtual communications and interactions, and the gaming realm (when played responsibly) is a welcome addition to the modern-day social scene.
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